Reed Photo Collection Highlight: Early 20th Century Motorcars
Each of the images below from Lewis Reed’s Collection has a car included, whether as a center point of a family photo, in the background of life’s moments, or on a cross-country road trip. These photos give a snapshot not just of the cars at the time, but a peak into an important aspect of the everyday lives of County residents.
There were no paved highways for automobiles to shoot along at 60 and 70 miles an hour; just country roads, filled with ruts, sand, and mud, over which no one wanted to drive at the maximum speed of passenger cars, which was about 30 miles an hour. But every trip was a different adventure.
A cross-country road trip is a quintessentially American experience. It’s always an adventure, but in modern times it’s a relatively tame one: The roads are paved, signs point the way, and Siri always has your back. If cars had cup holders back then, these folks would be rolling with crystal goblets, not Big Gulps.
Come away with me, Lucille: In my merry Oldsmobile: Down the road of life we’ll fly: Automo-bubbling, you and I….
Back in the early part of the last century when the automobile was still new and a novelty, it was often used for Kodak moments.
The photographs below was taken by Lewis Reed on one of his many cross country road trips. The car is a 1935 Dodge Touring Sedan with Maryland Dealer license plates. Note the rear-hinged “Suicide Door”. Cars of this era did not have seat belts, so there was nothing to hold a passenger in the car. The term “suicide doors” was therefore placed on vehicles with the rear-hinged door configuration, the theory being that the forward motion of the car could cause the door to fly open, possibly causing the unlucky person sitting next to the door to be pulled out of the car, or the door itself could be ripped from its hinges.
In order for occupants of early 1920’s cars to remain warm during the cold winter months, especially when it was snowing, it was necessary for them to dress warmly and cover themselves with blankets. Note the car in the photo below is mostly open-bodied, with no windows and certainly no heat. Tire chains are on the rear tires. I cannot say with any certainty, but I believe it is Lewis Reed’s car with his wife and baby daughter, Mary Jane, sitting inside all bundled up.
Early motorists weren’t afraid to drive in the snow simply because they didn’t have 4-wheel drive and electronic assistance; they just got out and did it. Who would dare go out in these conditions today without an AWD SUV and heated seats?
Nobody really thinks about it today. If your car is too cold, then simply switch on the “heater” and soon your car will be warm. However, it wasn’t always that way. What passengers did back then, in the early days of motoring, was bundle up as if one was outdoors. This meant heavy clothing, winter gloves and snow boots. It wasn’t long, however, before car makers realized that a few comforts, like heat in the passenger compartment, or even some type of heated seating, would help sell cars.
In 1900 car owners were almost by definition wealthy, especially since they often employed chauffeurs: many wouldn’t have dreamed of trying to operate their own vehicles. The earliest car owners had no real repair business to turn to. To be a successful motorist in the early 1900s, you needed to have some sort of mechanical skills. Or you had to find someone who did. Wealthy people employed private chauffeur-mechanics to not only drive, but also maintain and repair their large, expensive automobiles — rather than learn to do it themselves. Chauffeurs would be in charge of everything to do with the owner’s motor vehicle including repairs and maintenance and cleaning this meant that early personal chauffeurs had to be skilled mechanics. Pierce-Arrow was one of the most common makers of luxury cars in the early 20th century. The price for one of these vehicles was sometimes as much as ten times the price of a standard touring car.
Early automobiles were unreliable. They broke down frequently and needed to be pulled out of mud or snow by horses. They meant it back in the good old days when motorists were advised to “get a horse”. The photo shows William Beall in his 1915 Pullman in front of old St Mary’s Church and his younger brother Vernon on horseback “towing” him to Reed Brothers.
The touring car was one of the most common styles of automobile in the early decades of the 20th century. Nearly every auto manufacturer offered a vehicle in this style. Touring cars generally were denoted by an open body seating four or more people. Identified by the triangle logo on the grill and the number of passengers seated in it, the car below appears to be a 1918 Hudson Super Six Seven Passenger Touring. The Hudson and Oldsmobile were sold at Reed Brothers from roughly 1917 through 1923.
Vehicles required much higher road clearances than modern cars due to the poor state of roads and tracks, hence the large diameter skinny tires of the day which were effective at cutting through mud to reach more solid ground.
The popularity of the touring car began to wane in the 1920s when cars with enclosed passenger compartments (i.e. fixed steel roofs) became more affordable, and began to consistently out-sell the open cars.
The touring car body style was popular in the early 20th century, being a larger alternative to the two-seat roadster. The photo below was taken in 1915 by Lewis Reed in front of the original Rockville Garage. Old St Mary’s Church is in the background. Note the unpaved dirt road on Veirs Mill Road. Rockville Garage was a distributor of Fisk Tires until circa 1918, when they replaced it with the Firestone brand. The car appears to be a 1916 Studebaker Roadster. The roadster was a sportier style of vehicle, usually a two-seater with a convertible canopy roof. Many manufacturers offered roadster versions of their larger touring car models.
Ever want to see how sausage is made? Well, okay – maybe not… but this interesting photo taken by Lewis Reed some 100 plus years ago allows you to see how 18 men managed to cram themselves into a 1910-1911 Pierce Arrow Model 48 7-Passenger Touring. Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company in Buffalo, New York, produced some of the finest automobiles made and was one of the most popular high-quality cars of the time.
The automobile has affected this country more than any other invention of its time. Without automobiles, life as we know it would not be the same, and the changes that they have brought can be seen in every aspect of our lives.